Curbing Insane Campaigning

How U.S. Voters Are Prepped to See Red, or Blue

On June 7, 2015, friends I highly respect told me with certainty that the upcoming U.S. presidential election would be won by Clinton or Bush. How did they know? I asked amazed. Things were but in the tenderest phases of inception. Their answer was not charged with their usual passion; it was, in fact, resigned. “They have the most money.”

We all now know they were wrong – about who had the most money, that is. And consequently about who won. Russia was pumping at least $1 million a month into someone else. And that person won.

The fact that the amount of campaign money spent can so neatly determine who gets elected should have us all very worried.

The presidential campaign is the costliest, most punishing U.S. government engagement barring war and a very uncomfortable time for many Americans. This is not because they are troubling themselves about whom to vote for; most made up their minds when they were twenty, or thirty. The discomfort comes from being targets of frenetic, months-long media campaigns that treat them like herd animals, pelting them daily with fleeting, coarse messages calculated to prep, carp, and hype until voters see red, or maybe blue. TV viewers are bombarded with crude, repetitive ads that dispense with detailing campaigners’ own platforms in favor of defaming the opponent’s character. No one comes away from a campaign the wiser about what’s wrong or what to do about it.

The way to cool all this down is to limit campaign funding per political party and distribute the funds collected equally among each party’s candidates. This can be addressed in eight simple fixes:

  • Fix 1 Limit the amount of donation per voter.
  • Fix 2 Accept donations from human individuals only.
  • Fix 3 Channel donations to the contributor’s chosen political party.
  • Fix 4 Forbid donations to individual candidates.
  • Fix 5 Publish names of contributors and amounts donated.
  • Fix 6 Divide campaign funds equally among party candidates.
  • Fix 7 Allot equal media time and type to each candidate.
  • Fix 8 Restrict messaging as follows:
    • a 15% attacking others
    • b 15% presenting oneself as the greatest
    • c 70% discussing issues, problems, policies, initiatives

Although Russia’s money doesn’t figure into funding rules for U.S. elections, the fixes listed above just might check such interlopers the next time. For example, the Russia-engineered messaging would be subject to Fix 8a – attacking others. Watchdogs would have grounds to censure it on that basis alone, without having to snake through all the loopholes to determine the source’s nationality.

Now, starting at the top: Fix 1 gives all eligible voters a chance to exert equal financial influence on a campaign. This means there would be no reason to give the Koch Brothers seats by the podium and not you, unless there was some funny business expected to go on after the election. See Fix 3 for the solution to that.

Fix two forbids contributions from corporations, institutions, unions, and groups. Need I say more?

Fix 3 channels all contributions not to a candidate, but to the party of the voter’s choice. Direct influence on candidates is to be made – surprise – in the form of the votes cast during primaries and elections. We’re only campaigning now. Allowing donations to parties only would strengthen the party and its platform while stifling party mavericks, who could run as independents, if they chose. Some will see as a downside. So be it. The upside is the party’s candidate, if voted into office, would be better prepared to work effectively with Congress, having coordinated thoroughly with the party beforehand. Should the Koch Brothers wish to influence policy after an election, as alluded to in the discussion of Fix 1, it would require seducing not just one candidate, lining not just one pocket, but hijacking the entire party. This is something they could do, but it would be harder, not come cheap, and be conspicuous.

Fix 5: Why would a candidate attempting to woo the public with their integrity and ardent desire to boost general well-being and prosperity want to keep their sources of funding secret? The answer is too obvious to bother stating. However, Fix 5 would eliminate that. Although it would make for monotonous reading, it calls for publishing lists of contributors along with the amounts of individual contributions.

Fix 6 – distributing party campaign funds equally among candidates – ensures equal exposure for all candidates. Remember, exposure in general has already been limited as a result of Fix 1, which restricts contributions altogether. Now, with each candidate getting an equal share of those limited funds and equal exposure, it means sheer quantity and repetition is out, forcing candidates to focus on quality and substance. If you have a chance to say something important only once, you craft your message differently. Working on a shoestring, filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder allowed his actors one take per scene. No one turned out more memorable films in so short a period than Fassbinder.

Fix 7 parcels out media time and type to candidates equally. This could work in favor of the candidates in cases when the party chooses to allot TV time or Internet slots to each candidate from general party funds, effectively boosting individual campaign budgets by that much equally. The principle is to award each candidate equal coverage per media type to sift out undue influence that one communication type might have over another. This measure also helps thwart election meddlers. Should bot-generated ads appear in Facebook violating the party’s exposure limits set for Candidate X, for example, the party need only request Mr. Zuckerberg to block those bots or stand in violation of U.S. campaign laws. There should be no problem here. Not so long ago, Putin requested Facebook to block Instagram posts made by Navalny, a man who stands as the single most important opposition figure against Putin in Russia; the big Z promptly did.

And lastly, Fix 8 is not only critical, but pure fun. Campaign messages must adhere to a few simple rules that require basic message categorization. Fix 8a says that 15% of your messages may castigate, deploy, degrade, and lie about the other candidates (all the other candidates put together, that is, favoring small fields for highest criticism per target). Fix 8b allows you to boast about yourself as the all-time best in any way, shape, or form 15% of the time; although not too many candidates would waste their message on this category, it doesn’t mean they can shunt the rest over to 8a; leftover capacity in 8a or 8b automatically gets added to 8c. As per Fix 8c, you must focus the balance of your messaging – at least 70% – on the issues. Simple.

It is beyond the scope of this essay (thank goodness) to detail what mechanisms must be in place to ensure conformance to these fixes. However, supervision could be performed by those responsible for overseeing the existing campaign rules. There are also intensively involved, sophisticated groups who, for example, track Trump’s tweets. They could serve as very effective watchdogs. My only wish is to be around when they start discussing 8a, when an attack is not an attack.

6 thoughts on “Curbing Insane Campaigning

  1. Fix two is the key but are you aware that the conservative supreme court has changed the face of american elections by declaring corporations to be individuals in the “Citizens United” case? Our so called democracy now hands the government over to corporate wealth. Interesting book on this topic is “How Democracies Die” by Levitsky and Ziblatt.

  2. Interesting and refreshing thoughts. It’s good to hear from someone who can be objective. We are so bombarded with news, etc. here.

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